Gifts for Tea Lovers - A Brief History of the Tea Caddy
I owe my love of history and tea to my mom. She was Dutch and inherited a daily tea habit and a love of special mugs, many with warming lids, tea pots and tea cozies. For my Dutch grandparents it was coffee time in the morning and tea time in the afternoon. There was a tea cabinet full of brightly colored tins illustrated with Golden Age Dutch paintings and tops that opened with a satisfying pop, freeing the aromas of earl grey or darjeeling from their secret insides.
Part of tea's early popularity was it's expense and rarity. From its first appearance in lands outside areas of cultivation, tea was accompanied by a guardian. Known as a Tea Caddy, these lockable boxes derive from the Malay term for "kati," the unit of weight used in tea sales. As early explorers, the Italians and Portuguese encountered tea in 1516, though it was a 1555 book that truly introduced tea to Europe. Tea came to Amsterdam in the early 1600s, brought back by the Dutch East India Company. By 1636 tea reached France, and though the Russian ambassador had been gifted tea by China, he didn't like it and thus delayed the introduction of tea to Russia by 50 years.
Tea and related accoutrements conveyed taste and wealth, like this ornate novelty set of Georgian tea caddies from the late 18th century. The most simple Tea Caddy would hold tea, perhaps in a plain box with its tiny key, kept safe by the lady of the house. By the 1800s, as tea became more affordable, the production of tea chests and tea caddies blossomed. Demand for tea caddies as functional items was nearly gone by the end of the 18th century once tea was available in packaging. Now they are treasures and keepsakes.
Below, a 19th century version boasts Neoclassical Greek inlay pattern, popular in the Victorian era - notice the tiny key!
Take a peek inside this London-made 19th century twin tea caddy, with a protective inner lid for each tea compartment.
If you love history and tea - you'll love our vintage tea caddy key necklace, made from a vintage tea chest key cast in solid sterling silver or bronze to make a forever keepsake.